35 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LB
As patriotic as a rousing chorus of Rule, Britannia!, this splendidly antiquated institution flies the flag for British dishes and ingredients with its proudly traditional menu. As London's oldest restaurant (opened by Thomas Rule in 1798), it would no doubt still be familiar to former patrons such as Charles Dickens, who looks down over the plush, panelled dining room from walls crowded with old sketches and paintings. Quality is consistent across the board, with confident renditions of staples such as potted shrimps, steak and kidney pie or golden syrup steamed sponge with custard. Game from the restaurant’s Lartington Estate in Yorkshire is a real draw in autumn, when dishes such as braised pheasant with lentils or roast grouse with game chips, bread sauce and redcurrant jelly make a perfect match for the savoury Rhône reds on the wine list. Expect to be treated like royalty from the moment you're greeted by the top-hatted doorman.
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The Goring, 15 Beeston Place, London, SW1W 0JW
A quintessentially British restaurant for a top-class family-owned British hotel, the Goring Dining Room is a real experience. Decked out in cream and gold, it manages to stay the right side of pompous thanks to whimsical cherry-tree chandeliers and keen-as-mustard service – a mood of “unrushed efficiency” prevails. Grilled Dover sole and beef Wellington are still there for the old guard, but elsewhere more on-trend dishes delight such as confit egg yolk with chicken wings and prosciutto (“a winner”), and delicate, cured sea trout tartare with myriad specialist tomatoes and seaweed vinaigrette. Roast chicken with truffled potato salad has also “pleased greatly” and we’ve been blown away by the perfectly timed cod with razor clams and shrimps. As you might expect from a Michelin-starred kitchen, it’s all very sophisticated and pretty, although “flavours and textures are a highlight”. The “incredible” cheese trolley gets rave reviews, and the wine list has everything you would expect of such a grand establishment.
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11 Langley Street, London, WC2H 9JG
“The best steak in London, by a mile”, declares one reader, and we have to agree. The beefy Hawksmoor chain somehow manages to get everything right, from its glorious 35-day-aged steaks supplied by The Ginger Pig to its creative cocktails – all presented by staff with a genuine passion for service. It's easy to understand why there are now six branches in the capital (and another in Manchester), though this atmospheric site in the old barrel-vaulted Watney Combe Brewery is one of our favourites. Start with Old Spot belly ribs or sweetly caramelised roast scallops with white port and garlic, before taking your pick of the beefy cuts chalked up by weight on blackboards. Perfectly crisp triple-cooked chips, gut-busting macaroni cheese or grilled bone marrow make happy companions, but we urge saving some space for the addictive salted caramel Rolos too. The comfortable bar deals in burgers and lobster rolls as well as brilliant drinks, though between the hours of 3pm and 5pm Monday-Friday, you can dine from the full a la carte menu when booking in advance. Sunday lunch sees roast rump of Longhorn beef with all the trimmings for Sunday lunch. “Great for big groups and for couples”, notes one fan.
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Halkin Arcade, 19 Motcomb Street, London, SW1X 8JT
A clever combination of flattering lighting and a genius design spec that brings the ‘theatre’ kitchen unobtrusively into the slinky dining room would be enough for most restaurants to make a fashionable leap into the limelight, but Amaya has its Michelin-starred food and brilliant service too.
Readers confirm that this glamorous venue is up there with the Indian big boys thanks to spot-on cooking, “wonderful variety” and a menu that cherry-picks influences from across the subcontinent. Plenty of “superior” high-end ingredients are woven in too: foie gras gets the tandoori treatment, and lightly stir-fried lobster masala also features. Don’t miss the subtly spiced chicken tikkas, the tandoori ocean prawns or the sizzling specialities from the tawa hotplate and sigri grill (white sweet potatoes, wild venison, stonkingly good lamb chops fired with smoked chilli).
Most dishes are designed for sharing and arrive from the open kitchen as and when they’re ready. A spice-friendly wine list matches the food in every department, but it would be a mistake to overlook the cocktails.
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Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA
With Heston Blumenthal’s name attached and a menu of eye-catching dishes that play with our perceptions of British cookery, Dinner was always going to be a hit with London’s gastro-tourists, and there are plenty of reasons for them to leave feeling satisfied – not least the beautiful daytime view of Hyde Park, the fun of the nitro-fuelled ice cream cart and the switched-on staff.
“Attention to detail is second to none”, observes a fan. Even if you don’t buy into the restaurant’s date-stamped reinterpretation of historical recipes, there’s a formidable cornucopia of gastronomic delights to relish – from the ‘meat fruit’ (c.1500) disguised as a mandarin with subtle citrus notes to the soft, juicy ‘tipsy cake’ (c.1810) with spit-roast pineapple. Also brace yourself for other extraordinary conceits ranging from ‘sherried’ scallop tartare with mushroom broth to chicken ‘oysters’ invigorated with horseradish cream and pickled walnuts. Sides are not to be sniffed at either – the mash is among the creamiest we’ve tasted. Obviously, such a “luxurious experience” doesn’t come cheap (especially if you commit to the wine flights), although set lunches offer a more accommodating prospect. Either way, prepare to be astonished.
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1-5 West Street, London, WC2H 9NQ
Celebrating its centenary in 2017, The Ivy is a celeb-friendly fixture of the glamorous West End scene. Yet, behind the iconic harlequin stained glass, the old girl certainly isn't showing her age – thanks to a glittering 2015 makeover that gave pride of place to a beautiful vintage-styled bar. Although the hype around the refurb has died down, there's still a warm glow of approval from readers, who praise the "utterly impeccable" service, "unflappable staff" and "buzzy, not noisy" atmosphere. The eclectic menu is a winning mix of Ivy perennials such as the "truly wonderful" crispy duck salad and classic shepherd's pie, alongside on-trend raw dishes like "delicious" yellowfin tuna sashimi with avocado or salmon ceviche with tiger's milk, as well as ultra-trad confit duck or grouse with bread sauce. The kitchen’s special talent lies in the fact that it manages to cook such a varied range of dishes equally well. "The Ivy will always have a place in my heart", declares one fan, while another reckons it’s “a delight all round”.
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Prince Albert Road (corner of Charlbert Street), London, NW8 7EN
“If this was a cruise ship it would be the old P&O Victoria, rather than a modern Cunard liner”, mused one reader after visiting this slice of vintage 1970s nostalgia. Oslo Court is certainly one of a kind – it’s like “time travelling backwards”, but in a good way, with charmingly retro salmon-pink decor, heavily starched linen and tuxedo-clad waiters wheeling around dessert trolleys. Likewise, the menu lists the kind of fare found in five-star hotels of a bygone era, with warm buttered rolls presented alongside coquilles St Jacques or garlicky mushrooms in puff pastry. Generosity is a given when it comes to mains, perhaps a whopping Dover sole meunière or roast duckling with a choice of orange, cherry or apple sauce, while puds of the crêpe Suzette and strawberry flan ilk aren’t exactly featherweight either. It’s all rather hypnotising, and the clientele of local, moneyed retirees would be lost without it.
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26-29 Dean Street, London, W1D 3LL
Founded back in 1926, this quintessential “Soho sanctuary” isn’t drifting quietly into old age: autumn 2016 saw the ground-floor dining room reduced by two-thirds to make space for Barrafina Soho (both are owned by the Hart brothers), following the latter’s eviction from nearby Frith Street. The room looks the same, with brown-leather banquettes, “beautiful fresh flowers” and jewel-like stained glass windows, although there’s less all-round hubbub than before. Head chef Jeremy Lee’s menu is still a joyful celebration of the seasons, so expect anything from a warm salad of grouse and elderberries to a strapping leg of lamb garlanded with a pick-and-mix of gently cooked mushrooms. Lee’s refined repertoire also makes room for simple comforts such as chunky, lightly fried chips or steamed lemon pudding with rhubarb, while the trademark smoked eel sandwich is a must-order. None of this comes particularly cheap, but thanks to great service, really good Martinis and a dash of British eccentricity (John Broadley’s distinctive illustrations are a hoot), we reckon it’s great value.
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20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED
Proving that chain restaurants don’t have all the fun on Piccadilly Circus’s tourist highway, this archetypal brasserie provides Gallic staples at low prices in the glitzy surrounds of a cavernous former ballroom dripping with marble-clad charm. Start with a hefty bowl of soupe à l’oignon or a clutch of escargots slathered in parsley butter, ahead of baked trout with almonds, smoked pork belly or something more exotic such as spicy merguez sausage with couscous. Steaks are also perennially popular, from good-value haché with pepper sauce all the way up to a luxe rib-eye with Café de Paris sauce. The separate gluten-free menu’s “wonderful choice” gets a special mention, while over 30 selections from the all-French wine list are sold in five measures. Accusations of “unexciting” dishes are not unfounded but, for those who want a good French meal in the West End at a reasonable price, Zédel is hard to beat – especially when you factor in surefooted service and the festive atmosphere.
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11-15 Swallow Street, London, W1B 4DG
More than a century down the line, Bentley’s still offers “the freshest oysters in London” with all the conviviality you’d expect of a restaurant owned by Richard Corrigan. Downstairs, shuckers get through Carlingford, Jersey and West Mersea bivalves like they’re going out of fashion, with support from celebratory seashore platters, fish and chips and even a sushi salad bowl. Things are noticeably less hectic in the upstairs grill, where punters have time to anticipate and savour sea bass carpaccio with langoustine and lime, ‘royal’ fish pie or grilled sirloin of Irish Hereford beef with salted bone marrow and black pepper onions. Dessert could be a seasonal trifle or a tropical arrangement of pineapple, mango, chilli, ginger and coconut, while the wine list matches these fulsome flavours with plenty by the glass and a global outlook among the bottles. When it comes to the bill, “Corrigan knows how to charge, but can be excused given the overall quality,” says one regular.
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Level 32, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY
High in the sky above the sweeping London landscape sits Oblix, one of a handful of restaurants in tourist magnet The Shard. Boasting truly stunning views of the capital, alongside a menu of “first class” food, it has long been a favourite among SquareMeal readers.
At Oblix, moody modern aesthetics (the reception desk is in almost complete darkness) soon give way to truly stunning panoramic vistas. Owner Rainer Becker is better known for Asian-themed Zuma and Roka, but Oblix is more firmly rooted in Western gastronomy. The menu kicks off with snacks and small plates, including a decadent and crisp truffled flatbread which is topped with shavings of pancetta and flakes of ricotta. Elsewhere, try springy crispy squid pepped up with chilli and lime, or perhaps a super fresh and creamy lobster and clam linguini.
Sizeable mains come from the in-house Josper grill, rotisserie and wood-fired oven – think steaks in various sizes served alongside thick-cut chips and helpings of rich mac ‘n’ cheese, and a tender helping of duck with a crispy skin, dipped in a vibrant mango sauce. For pudding, the dessert platter is surely the only way to go, featuring miniature versions of Oblix’s entire dessert menu, including a bar of chocolate topped with crunchy bourbon ice cream, and a fluffy slice of New York cheesecake.
If dinner reservations prove hard to book, Oblix also offers a weekend brunch menu complete with an extensive dessert station, and a luxe Sunday lunch featuring the likes of lamb rump with puy lentils, parsley and mint. For the budget minded, a “good value” set lunch menu offers an affordable way in.
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Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, London, SW3 6RD
The latest iteration of iconic Michelin House unites two legends of the London restaurant scene: Bibendum’s co-founder Sir Terence Conran and chef Claude Bosi (formerly of two-Michelin-starred Hibiscus). Here in Chelsea, Bosi’s cooking is a little more relaxed, although the style is definitely more Hibiscus than Bibendum – witness clever amuse-bouches of pissaladière fashioned into lifelike ‘olives’ or eggshells filled with mushroom duxelles, coconut foam and curry powder. However, you’ll also encounter whopping stalks of intensely flavoured green and white asparagus, chicken that tastes of a life well lived and, best of all, a Staub pan brimming with chunky, funky tripe and cuttlefish gratin, plus hefty slices of pig’s ear and ham cake on the side: simple dishes elevated to the sublime by a kitchen versed in skilful technique. Prices are as unremittingly high as ever, although a set lunch and Sunday roasts are an attempt to make this special-occasion destination work for locals as well. But Bibendum’s food is only half the story: few dining rooms in London give such unremitting life-affirming pleasure, especially when the light is streaming through those famous stained-glass depictions of the Michelin man.
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34 Grosvenor Square (Entrance on South Audley St), London, W1K 2HD
Promising British hospitality at its finest, 34 is testament to the “slick”, “five-star” hospitality that marks out the Caprice Holdings stable. From the top-hatted doorman outside this former bank to the timeless art deco-style interiors – think table lamps, brown leather banquettes and a marble bar – every bit of the consummate experience is “perfectly executed”, cocktails included. The grill menu has steak at its heart, but also does a mean line in seafood – our sprightly lobster, shrimp and sea bass ceviche was a judiciously spiced appetiser for the oncoming meat fest. Yorkshire heritage breeds and top-end Wagyu both feature prominently, but it’s worth doffing your cap to the nearby American Embassy and opting for the USDA Prime chateaubriand – a glorious, “succulent”, hunk of beef for two served with truffle gravy and mushrooms. If you have space for dessert, a chocolatey peanut-butter crunch bar with blackcurrant sorbet is simple but satisfying. Dapper, ever-attentive staff earn due praise, and the sommelier is full of great recommendations (in our case, a gorgeous Los Vascos Grande Reserve 2012 Rothschild). High prices reflect the postcode, but fans reckon 34 is “worth every penny”.
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Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London, W6 9HA
Although artisan competition is fierce these days, we side with the fan who reckons that The River Café serves “the best ingredients-driven Italian food in London”. This convivial Hammersmith evergreen (30 years young in 2017), which is rightfully so happy in its skin, is a very slick operation and certainly in the capital’s gastronomic ‘Serie A’, although it gains added kudos by virtue of its entrancing views and seductive riverside terrace (an absolute must-do on balmy days) as well as its decor, which some say is “dated but iconic”.
The rustic glories of Italian regional cuisine are writ large in a seasonal menu that majors on daisy-fresh salads, glossy pasta and specialities from the imposing red log-burning oven: in summer, that might mean poached langoustines with aïoli and pea salad followed by clam risotto dressed with zucchini flowers or wild salmon baked in sea salt; in winter, Tuscan bread soup with Swiss chard could precede whole Anjou pigeon wood-roasted in Chardonnay with speck, smoked celeriac and watercress. Further classics might be turbot with the greenest of beans, lobster risotto or char-grilled calamari with rocket. To conclude, chocolate nemesis is still the go-to option, but fruity tarts, grappa-laced pannacotta and the citrusy almond and polenta cake are also delicious.
Prices are top lire (a bowl of cherries is £10), although “exceptional service” is as friendly and engaging as it gets in London. Meanwhile, a list of pedigree Italian wines served at the correct temperatures in the correct glasses makes The River Café is the most well-rounded of treats.
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112 Draycott Avenue, SW3 3AE
A neighbourhood bolthole and gastronomic destination rolled into one, Daphne’s is the very personification of its Kensington clientele – handsome, refined and utterly assured. From the dark-pink marble bar with its green leather stools to the European modern art and baroque conservatory for private dining, this space resembles a tasteful and expensively clad Italian townhouse, complete with classic Jags and idling chauffeurs parked outside the concertina doors. The kitchen specialises in bold regional flavours: creamy burrata with intense cherry tomatoes and grilled focaccia; octopus carpaccio with crispy soft-shell crab; pappardelle with wild boar ragù; roast rump of lamb with caponata and salsa verde; seared slabs of tuna atop sweet peperonata. For dessert, the strawberry gelato is guaranteed to clear any rainclouds away. As you’d expect from Caprice Holdings, flawless and personable service is a given, while waiters “with a good sense of humour” take pleasure in steering drinkers through the exhaustive Italian wine list.
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Arlington Street, London, SW1A 1RJ
“A classic, but still one the best” says a fan of Le Caprice, the vintage St James’s hangout that gave Caprice Holdings its name. Star-seekers, celebs and grown-up hedonists are easily seduced by its David Bailey photographs, riffing piano player and “fantastic customer service” (directed by legendary maître d' Jesus Adorno), while the food is “easy on the palate” – but irresistible in its own way. Whether you’re in the market for rigatoni with rabbit ragù, crispy duck salad, miso-marinated salmon with stir-fried shiitake mushrooms or a classic brasserie plateful such as slow-roast pork belly with black pudding mash, caramelised apples and Calvados sauce, this kitchen is a failsafe option – and decent value to boot. There’s also fun to be had when it comes to desserts such as rhubarb and custard pavlova or the Cru Virunga chocolate crunch bar with cherries. Flutes and bottles of premium fizz match the mood, or you can get your boozy kicks from the zingy cocktails and classy international wines. With weekend brunch and Sunday night jazz added to the mix, Le Caprice is “always perfect” – even after all these years.
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4-6 Russell Street, London, WC2B 5HZ
According to one reader, Balthazar could be “the best brasserie in London for atmosphere and service". Elsewhere, abundant praise for the lively buzz and "happy, friendly staff" is proof that this London outpost of Keith McNally's upscale bistro lives up to the reputation of his NYC original. By and large, the food wins approval too, with particular mentions for the "delicious afternoon tea" and "just the best dauphinoise potatoes". Order them alongside wickedly rich duck confit or coq au vin, preceded by chicken liver parfait, steak tartare or garlicky escargots. The all-day offer also includes delectable pastries from Balthazar’s boulangerie next door, omelette Arnold Bennett for brunch, plateaux de fruits de mer from the seafood bar or eggs mimosa followed by roast hake with bouillabaisse soup on the prix fixe. "It's a great place for breakfast, lunch or dinner and business meetings" concludes one ardent admirer; another simply says “sit back, enjoy the buzz and don’t worry about your wallet”.
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32 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3LX
Curious passers-by peer through the window to catch a glimpse of Damien Hirst’s ‘Cock and Bull’ installation housed in chef/art collector Mark Hix’s Tramshed. They should brave it and go on in; allcomers are welcome at this cavernous industrial space where Hix serves seriously sourced chicken and steak – crowd-pleasers both – to solo diners at the bar, rowdy parties in capacious booths, and everyone in between. In less capable hands, Tramshed would be a fail-safe ‘yawn’ of a concept, but Hix’s menu goes beyond salt-aged Glenarm beef and roast barn-reared chooks into lively international territory. To wit, whipped chicken livers served with an enormous duck-fat Yorkshire pud (as a British alternative to brioche), American-style bone-in rib and slaw, a fearsomely hot curry, and a no-airs-and-graces raspberry cheesecake – not that anything will lure the lunchtime crowd away from their steak sandwiches. Wines and cocktails are credible rather than posey.
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20 Queen Street, London, W1J 5PP
Angela Hartnett’s flagship restaurant is Mayfair dining at its very best – “fabulous” food, “unobtrusive” staff and a first-rate wine list manned by a “brilliant” sommelier. The sleek white-and-beige dining room with the odd art-deco flourish may still have echoes of its Gordon Ramsay days, but Hartnett’s Brit-Italian cooking keeps Murano apace with London’s vanguard. The ultra-flexible menu lets you choose up to five courses at will, from an exquisite scallop crudo with plump greengages and crunchy oats, piqued by a lemon verbena foam to gorgeous parcels of rabbit meat and sage in a clear broth or a star dish of confit pink fir apples, crispy skins and a creamy Tunworth cheese foam. The huge wine list stays true to Hartnett’s Italian heritage, and you can keep costs down by ordering the “excellent-value” set lunch. “Murano is perfect for any occasion”, confirms one fan.
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50 Marylebone High Street, London, W1U 5HN
Oh, Vienna: Corbin and King’s grand café has one misty-eyed for the city of cafés and giant schnitzels without ever leaving Marylebone. It’s not so much the food, though that’s a cold-weather dream: neat rye sourdough brötchen lined with beetroot and herring, followed by braised beef tafelspitz or pan-fried duck liver with grapes and redcurrants piled onto crisp rösti. It’s more the cumulative effect of the smart staff, low lights, leather accents, copious taxidermy and gorgeous views. This is a comfortable, well-padded kind of seduction, complete with cake plates brought to the table for you to choose from (go for the classic Sachertorte), and silver coupes filled with nutty ice cream. Mid-European wines are a feature, but so is coffee and a biscuit. We love it, although one disappointed punter thinks that Fischer’s needs to “up its game”, with the Ivy Café now grabbing headlines (and customers) on Marylebone High Street.
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2 Bellevue Road, London, SW17 7EG
“Reassuringly polished in every way” says an admirer of Bruce Poole’s remarkable restaurant, while another deems it “an all-time favourite at the top end”. We’re also enamoured of Chez Bruce’s sense of style, its neighbourly virtues and the fact that it can regularly deliver inspired Michelin-starred food at egalitarian prices. As a dressed-down local eatery of the best sort, its gusty Euro-inspired food pleases, excites and soothes in equal measure, from starters of trotter sausage with warm summer beans and confit rabbit to desserts such as the much-vaunted crème brûlée or pistachio meringues with lemon verbena and raspberries. In between, the kitchen’s big-hearted approach might yield roast cod with olive oil mash, Provençal tomato and gremolata or rump of lamb with stuffed tomato, sweetbread ragoût and courgette tarte fine – manna indeed for the well-fed burghers of Wandsworth. The magnificent cheeseboard is also a class act in its own right. Some feel Chez Bruce’s new layout is a tad “cramped” and it’s clear that pressure of numbers can occasionally impact on the kitchen, but impressively professional staff are always on top of things. In contrast to the “delightful small menu”, the wine list is an all-encompassing encyclopaedic tome offering diversity, style and quality in spades.
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20 Mount Street, London, W1K 2HE
Under the awning or amid polished oak panels, glamorous Scott’s is a top choice if you want to take clients out for some “sublime” seafood and a thorough spoiling, backed by service that’s “second to none”. Staff “really care”, so rest assured that the “best fish in town” will be delivered with seamless care and attention. The sight of glistening crustacea displayed at an ice-heaped bar serves as a reminder that it’s sometimes best to leave well alone. In that spirit, purists also enjoy potted shrimps, lobster mayonnaise and dressed crab, while more elaborate starters might bring tempura langoustine tails, char-grilled squid with ‘nduja or “delicious” sautéed monkfish cheeks with snails and bordelaise sauce. ‘Turf’ is always an option (try the chicken, mustard, bacon and quails’ egg pie), but many customers return to the sea for halibut with dashi broth and shrimp gyoza, battered haddock or fish for two on the bone. Despite the obvious luxury, Scott’s is widely judged to be “great value for money” – something to bear in mind when leafing through the wine list. In short, a “unique experience”.
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8 Seymour Street, London, W1H 7JZ
Eating at Giorgio Locatelli’s Michelin-starred flagship brings you one step closer to la dolce vita – so writes a fan who adores this polished purveyor of “old-school glamour” and pure-bred Italian regional cooking. Beaded curtains, cream leather and dramatic domed mirrors create just the right amount of chic elegance, while neatly designed alcoves offer privacy for those who are at Locanda Locatelli for discreet assignations. Meanwhile, the kitchen delivers value, authenticity and culinary cred as it fashions an array of vivacious dishes inspired by provenance-led cucina rustica. Superlative hand-crafted pasta is the undisputed headline act (ring-shaped calamarata with monkfish, samphire, dry capers, chilli and lemon, for example), but everything at Locanda Locatelli is imbued with seasonal freshness – from a grilled vegetable salad with stuffed peppers, pine kernel and basil to roast grouse with stewed lentils and game chips. To round things off, try the Neapolitan ‘baba’ with Chantilly and orange cream or gorge on some artisan cheeses, offered lovingly with Italian honey. Service seldom falters and prices are “not ridiculous” – although you’ll need to shell out a pretty penny to do the patrician wine list full justice.
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28-32 St Martin's Court, London, WC2N 4AL
“Old school dining at its best” says a devoted admirer of J Sheekey – a fondly admired veteran of the theatreland scene that is not only chic and fashionable but also democratic. With its cheerful buzz, fish “of the highest quality” and “some of the best service ever”, it invites diners to enjoy all the pleasures in a cosseting setting of leather banquettes and antique mirrors, with surrealist paintings and photos of legendary actors on the wood-panelled walls. Trawl through the menu for classics ranging from dressed crab and potted shrimps to magnificent fruits de mer and an inimitable fish pie, plus grilled halibut on the bone, fine Dover sole and lobster thermidor, but also be prepared for some daring detours – perhaps sardines marinated with harissa and pistachio dukkah or charred octopus with exotic green peppers. Fabulous puddings include crème brûlée and banoffee cheesecake, but we head straight for the Bramley apple pie and interesting tarts such as black fig with mascarpone and honey ice cream. To drink, fish-friendly wines include many Coravin selections – in short, J Sheekey is “an absolute must”.
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28 Upper Grosvenor Street, London, W1K 7EH
It’s hard to imagine Richard Corrigan seated in the restaurant that bears his name – at first glance, the blue-toned dining room and polished expanses seem too elegant to contain him. But there’s something of the chef’s robustness in a heartily seasonal menu, the odd visual pun and a chef’s trolley which might proffer shoulder of suckling pig or Dover sole meunière. Corrigan’s puts nature’s larder on the table in a way that suits “occasions when you want to be spoilt”. Influences are wide-ranging, so you might find chicken congee with scallop or roasted boneless quail with red curry and prawn toast ahead of perfectly timed Cornish cod with stuffed baby squid or one of the justly renowned game specialities: if you’re going to have hare in Mayfair, have it here, or try roast wild duck with pumpkin, celery and walnut. Presentation is appealing, but a fair distance from fussy – and the same can be said of a wine list grouped loosely by style.
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50-52 Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AX
If ever there was a corner of London that embraced the quintessence of central Paris, it’s Sloane Square – which makes it a perfect home for Messrs Corbin and King’s homage to the Gallic brasserie. From the black-and-white floor to art-deco flourishes and cream walls emblazoned with film posters, this spot has been fastidiously designed to look as if it’s been around for a lifetime. There’s the odd concession to current tastes on the all-day menu (crushed avocado on sourdough toast, say), but this is really a place for lovers of dyed-in-the-wool bistro cooking, from garlicky escargots and steak tartare to veal viennoise, herb-crusted hake with béarnaise sauce and desserts such as rum baba. Waiters in suited aprons are expertly drilled in the art of dutiful hospitality, while the oak bar is perfect for soaking up a Cognac or two. “Great local restaurant, buzzing from breakfast to midnight, love it”, says one fan. We wouldn’t argue with that.
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160 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9EB
“The daddy of them all” declares a fan of The Wolseley – and he’s not alone in cheering this “rather posh” grand café to the skies. Whether you’re here for the all-conquering breakfast, afternoon tea or a late-night pick-me-up, the barnstorming Wolseley always delivers – “it doesn’t matter what you look like, you’ll get treated like a VIP”. The sheer razzmatazz of the fabulously converted car showroom is part of its attraction, as regulars seek out their favourite tables, others mingle in anterooms and a regular trickle of walk-in celebs, creatives and shoppers adds to the spice of it all. To begin, you might find yourself dusting off the cobwebs over a bowl of Birchermuesli, a crispy bacon roll or a full fry-up; later on, thoughts could turn to steak tartare, salade niçoise, burgers, schnitzels or coq au vin – and there’s never a bad time for the Wolseley’s luscious array of creamy patisserie, cakes and ice-cream coupes. Service is always “top-notch” too. In short, The Wolseley is the complete West End package, and we concur with the reader who remarks that “I always come away with my high expectations satisfied and met”.
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Butlers Wharf, 36d Shad Thames, London, SE1 2YE
With its riverside views of Tower Bridge and close proximity to The City, Le Pont de la Tour has won a legion of fans since it was opened by Terence Conran back in 1991. Previously known for its classic French menu featuring favourites such as crêpes Suzette, new chef Julien Imbert has taken a more modern approach that reflects his experience as head chef at Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred City Social. While the Bar & Grill offers traditional French brasserie fare, the Restaurant now serves up elaborately plated, intricate dishes that draw on international influences and tap into current food trends. Witness cured salmon with miso mayonnaise and pickled cucumber or halibut with curry velouté. Our starter of smoked and pickled baby beetroot with blackcurrant was a well-judged blend of punchy flavours, while Gloucester Old Spot pork belly was perfectly paired with a smoked apple purée. Creative desserts such as lemon curd with thyme shortbread, meringue and liquorice ice cream are a highlight, while the lengthy wine list and smart service continue to impress. The changes to the format here weren’t necessarily needed, but they are more than welcome.
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43 Upper Brook Street, London, W1K 7QR
Stoically eschewing the cult of the new, Le Gavroche remains a bastion of haute cuisine in all its ancien régime finery – although you may need a certain worldly-wise mindset to fully appreciate this grandee’s many attributes. The dark exclusivity of the cocooned dining room, the fastidiously dutiful service and the indulgent extravagance of the food all seem to evoke a time gone by. As ever, Michel Roux’s Jr’s kitchen is intent on delivering classical cooking of the highest order, although he does allow the occasional flirtation with contemporary themes: trendy bottarga, two kinds of beetroot and ‘late-harvest’ Canadian vinegar balancing a dish of marinated and seared sea trout; ras-el-hanout spices adding exotic fragrance to a plate of stone bass, roasted peanuts enhancing some “incomparable” breast and leg of pigeon. Still, we take comfort in the classics – the ever-present and ever-gorgeous soufflé suissesse, the brilliantly succulent pig’s head terrine with braised snails, lemon and “inimitable” parsley purée, a perfect strawberry dessert highlighted with vanilla cream. Yes, eating here can be frighteningly expensive (especially if you dip into the aristocratic wine list), but readers also extol the virtues of the all-inclusive set lunch. With its two Michelin stars, fans say Le Gavroche is “quite simply the best”.
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4 The Polygon, London, SW4 0JG
“Everyone's favourite neighbourhood restaurant, now with star power!” declares one long-term admirer. Over the last decade, Trinity has grown from local gem to Michelin-gonged destination – thanks largely to chef-patron Adam Byatt and his team, who have created a genuinely bespoke experience here. The kitchen delivers a procession of “sublime” dishes well worth their accolades, from mini éclairs filled with rich, buttery cep mousse to the restaurant’s celebrated steak tartare – chunks of almost gamey Angus beef, mixed with pickled mushrooms, Daurenki caviar and smoked bone marrow, served in a vintage caviar tin. Elsewhere, pillow-like ravioli are filled with a fluffy, flavour-packed scallop and lobster mousse, while pink grouse breast comes dressed with hazelnuts and lardo, alongside creamy sweetcorn polenta and elderberries. To finish, the wobbly salt custard tart with salt caramel ice cream has us all a-quiver. Drinks are equally enticing, so sniff out the subtly hopped Trinity Ale or plump for a “gloriously different” G&T. The whole show takes place in a handsome room done out with parquet flooring, white tablecloths and muted colours, while service is deemed “amazing” and “delightful”.
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34-36 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE
The word “love” crops up repeatedly in Moro’s plaudits – a sure sign that it’s still held in high regard after rocking on for two decades. From day one, Sam and Samantha Clark’s ground-breaking eatery made an impact with its zinc-topped bar, pavement tables, wood-fired oven and compelling Spanish/North African cuisine. The whole shebang still thrills, although nothing can trump the food: heady spicing and subtly matched flavours are at the heart of things, from a lamb and saffron broth with wee dumplings, or a rustic salad of warm white beans and celery topped with bottarga, to luscious chocolate and apricot tart. In between, the wood-fired oven makes easy work of sesame chicken (served with couscous), while the charcoal grill offers up lamb with fava bean and bitter leaf purée. Alternatively, pick some small plates from the tapas bar menu – perhaps fried spiced chickpeas or anchovies on toast. The wine list shows the same geographical interests as the menu, and the sherry line-up warrants proper consideration. “Fabulous, I just love this place”, raves one fan.
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